Oxonians celebrate Easter in various ways

Published 10:00 am Sunday, April 1, 2018

For many, this weekend is a time for religious celebration, and each organization is observing the Easter holiday in its own way.

From traditional congregations to more contemporary gatherings, Oxonians will have plenty of ways to celebrate.

Rev. John Semmes, of Oxford First Presbyterian Church, said the church will hold two services at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. The church, organized in 1837, has worshipped in the same sanctuary on Van Buren Avenue since 1880.

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Semmes says he has a “basics are best” approach to Easter, focusing on the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

“Traditional in nature, the services include glorious music featuring our chancel choir accompanied by brass and timpani,” Semmes said. “As followers of Jesus, we can find great hope in the promise of eternal life made possible by his life, death and resurrection even as we use that hope in the present tense to serve others as the hands and feet of Christ here on earth.”

To prepare for the holiday, Semmes has led his congregation in a couple of different studies, one on the book of Ruth and the other on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

However, Christians aren’t the only community celebrating this weekend. Friday marked the beginning of Passover, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The holiday will last until April 7.

Richard Gershon, spokesperson for the Oxford Jewish Federation, said Passover is a time for all people, not just those of the Jewish faith, to celebrate freedoms.

“Passover is about celebrating religious freedom and freedom from oppression of all kinds,” Gershon said. “Each part of Passover and the Seder meal is designed to honor and remember the liberation of the Israelites after decades of oppression from the Egyptians.”

The community marked the start of Passover with a sold-out Seder meal at Ravine on Friday night. Seder meals are made up of dishes that symbolize the Passover story, including matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs, which commemorate the slavery endured by the Israelites.

The largest Easter service in Oxford will be held in the Grove today at 11 a.m. Pat Ward, pastor at the Orchard Oxford, said the event has become a production over the last six years.

The church will host approximately 2,000 people in the Grove for a contemporary Easter service. This year’s service will include spoken-word poetry, worship music and baptisms. Baptisms are one part of the service Ward said is especially meaningful.

“We’ve baptized about four or five people every year who were in their Easter Sunday best and went right in,” Ward said. “It’s been neat to hear some of the stories of people who really felt like they were experiencing Easter for the first time in a new way and decided to respond to that.”

The church also hosts a 6:30 a.m. sunrise service on their property off Hwy. 7, which is set high on a hill overlooking the National Forest.

To prepare for Easter, congregants at the Orchard have been encouraged to honor the six-week Lenten season by fasting from things other than food, like limiting social media activity and intake of the 24-hour news cycle.

Ward said he and his team have also explored new ways to celebrate the holiday, something he hopes will help the gospel reach more people.

“Because it’s a time to invite people to come, who don’t necessarily go to church, or go to church often, it’s a chance to address people who have doubts,” he said. “Anyone who comes to Easter with doubts is in good company. For all the ways that Easter is a mystery and a miracle, it’s also something that has the power to change us, and that’s why I think it’s worth celebrating in new ways every year.”

Representatives from other local churches were not available for comment at press time.